Brentwood school board chief criticizes union's ad

Michael Sgroi, PTSA liason, speaks during a Brentwood

Michael Sgroi, PTSA liason, speaks during a Brentwood public school board meeting at the Anthony Felicio Administration Building. (Sept. 19, 2013) (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

A newspaper ad criticizing the Brentwood school board for pinning some of the district's financial woes on the teachers union drew a rebuke Thursday night from the head of the board.

Board president Ana Martinez lashed out at the Brentwood Teachers Association during the regular meeting, accusing the union of misstating the facts. She also berated union leadership for wasting money on the full-page ad, which appeared Wednesday in Newsday.

Martinez, a teacher in the Southampton district, compared some of the union's cost-cutting proposals to the mortgage meltdown.


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"The Brentwood Teachers Association has essentially offered the district a subprime mortgage, which may seem great at the beginning until the payments become inflated and lead to foreclosure," she said. "We refuse to foreclose on the district's children."

Martinez called the union's support of deferred pay raises "a short-term solution to a long-term problem," and said that if the union had agreed to a hard wage freeze for 2013-14, the budget could have been balanced without dozens of jobs getting cut.

The board publicly asked union president Kevin Coyne to accept the wage freeze -- a high-pressure tactic that Coyne said violated the district's collective bargaining agreement.

In the ad, Coyne accused the board of blaming teachers for the district's financial woes. The ad was written as a letter to Brentwood residents and sought to refute recent accusations of union selfishness.

"Members of the board of education have characterized teachers as people who just show up for a paycheck. That is so far from the truth," Coyne said Thursday.

When the board drew up its 2013-14 budget, it built in 74 layoffs. The district ended up cutting 82 positions, though board members have promised to bring 12 staffers back.

At public hearings over the budget, several residents criticized teachers for refusing to take a wage freeze. District officials in August blamed a lack of union concessions for the planned elimination of 21 assistant coaching positions.

Coyne said the union has offered other concessions over five years that would have made wage freezes unnecessary, including increased contributions by teachers to their health insurance. For 2009-10, Coyne said, teachers gave up both contractual raises and step increases, under the condition that the money would be restored over six years. For 2010-11, the union agreed to require each member to give back $900 in pay.

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